Ai Weiwei has created the artwork Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way from products that can all be bought from Hornbach stores (and probably in fact from other DIY stores around the world).
The artwork can be made in multiple different versions, depending on the space you have or the affect you want to create, but as its title suggests, it is rooted in the bright orange security jackets that are familiar the world over. Instructions for all the versions of the work are contained in a rather beautiful manual that also features an interview with Ai by curator and author Hans Ulrich Obrist. It can be ordered online or downloaded at hornbach.de/aiweiwei/en.
While on the surface Ai Weiwei and Hornbach may seem an incongruous meeting of minds, the project is in fact rooted in a love of DIY shops that Ai has held all his life.
“I am Chinese as everybody knows but in my 20s I went to the United States as a poor student,” he says. “There are two stores I often go, one is a book store, from there you can be associated with different ideas, design and thinking. But the other is tool shops. I also worked as a carpenter, to do housebuilding, construction…. So I was always fascinated by all kinds of tools. Tools reflect human thinking, how you solve a problem. It’s always fascinated me – at different times, there are always different tools.”
Ai was also drawn to the project for the opportunity to work in a different space and potentially reach a new audience. “When approached by the agencies, I immediately accepted the possible offer,” he continues. “What attracted me is certainly this is different. I’ve been approached by lots of museums, I’ve been doing hundreds of museum shows, I’m a bit tired of it you know….. I think there’s a possibility for this artwork to reach out to the (mostly German) public and to raise some questions.”
The project was created in collaboration with the creative agencies Neutral Zurich and Heimat Berlin. It is of a somewhat different tone to the bawdy, hilarious ads that are often created for Hornbach, but, explains Guido Heffels, chief creative officer at Heimat Berlin, this is partly the point.
“When you are always funny, people get used to it,” he says. “Sometimes you have to come up with some serious stuff. The profile of Hornbach is far more diverse than other brands – sometimes we are highly intellectual, sometimes we are very simple, sometimes we are very sophisticated – this is part of the Hornbach brand. Our job is to surprise people. I think when you are always the same, you’ve done an awful job. We are paid to make the brand interesting and to attract people.”
For Ai, the artwork ties into his ongoing interest in the readymade in art, but also in his belief that everyone is an artist, and that everyone can make artistic works.
“I made this work for the public, for people who aren’t necessarily art collectors or museumgoers,” he says in the manual. “I made it for those who have a sense of humour and understand that meaning can be created by anybody at any moment.
“Art belongs to everybody,” he continues. “Everybody can be an artist or has the opportunity or ability to make art. And while art may not necessarily make the world a better place, it has the power to make us better people.”